You may well have heard a fair bit about Zach Zucker recently - and his alter-ego Jack Tucker - on this site and beyond. The relentlessly excruciating Tucker made a memorable impact at this year's Edinburgh Fringe - good, bad, but never indifferent - and is now at the Soho Theatre, making a literal splash, and a racket (although most of the latter comes from his secret weapon, director and sound-effects wiz Jonny Woolley).
The New York-born Zucker was best known pre-Jack as one half of the double act Zach & Viggo, with Norwegian comic Viggo Venn; they're still a popular comedy force, as is Zucker's production company, Stamptown. So how did this breakout character come about?
"I've always been fascinated by bad stand-up comedy, and the type of tension you can create with it," Zucker explains. "I've also thought stand-up was a lot stupider than people gave it credit for, just because it's accepted as the 'standard' form of comedy. Coming from a clown background, all we want to do is have fun being as stupid as possible, so we started playing with tropes that made us cringe the most and developed the character from there."
But did they have any idea that it would make such a big impact at the Fringe, beforehand?
"We've always believed we were capable of doing something that resonates this way, but it's pretty funny that Jack Tucker of all shows was what did it. That said, Edinburgh is full of comedy nerds who have seen it all, so it's probably the best place to find audiences that can get behind a show like Tucker."
True - not that all of his audiences tend to see all of the show (we'll come back to that). It was all planned, then?
"We went in hoping to always make ourselves laugh, sell out a bigger venue, and get one-through-five-star reviews: we did all of that, so we're pretty happy. Also we're super rich and famous now, so that's lit."
And, indeed, a lie. Still, things are going swimmingly, so let's take Zach - and Jack - back.
I think my first gig was an improv show at iO West in Los Angeles (RIP) back in 2012. I was on a team called Rut Roh! and we had a seven minute set in a room full of 20-30 people.
I remember being so nervous the whole time I was onstage and making a series of useless moves that didn't help any of the scenes - but my heart was thumping, the adrenaline was pumping and I leaned on the side of the stage looking cool like every great improviser I admired back then.
Our team broke up the next day and we never performed together again.
Favourite show, ever?
There's been so many favourite gigs depending on where we were at in our careers, but the one that sticks out is doing Late 'n' Live as Jack Tucker last year. It was the second time I ever did the character and the set was an absolute disaster.
I accidentally dropped my beer bottle at the top of the set and it shattered everywhere. Luckily Scott Gibson is a great MC and has a sense of humour, so he kept handing me more and more beer bottles. The more he brought, the more we dropped.
The audience was very split on this performance. Around 70% of the room didn't realise what was happening and got really angry. They were booing really hard, throwing solid objects at the stage, and eventually chanted 'kill yourself' which I thought was pretty extreme.
But we kept ploughing through the set as if Tucker was absolutely crushing. Scott eventually pretended to snap my neck and drag me off stage, which got way too big of a cheer, but we realised this character had the ability to really get under people's skin.
The first Jack Tucker show we did at the Adelaide Fringe this year was another hellish performance. We went into that run feeling like we were hot shit and the show was great - boy, were we wrong.
The audience was completely silent for the first 35 minutes, then people started walking out. I made the mistake of thinking everyone else was on my side and said something along the lines of 'if you want to go, now's your best chance' and half the audience seized the opportunity to go.
I ran down the aisle to plead with the people who were leaving, at which point, audience members in the front section got up and started filing out through the stage-exit, leaving me trapped in between two lines of justifiably disgruntled audience members trying to get out. We finished with a whopping 19 walkouts on the night, a two-star review, and 75 walkouts across the entire festival.
Which one person influenced your comedy life most significantly?
Our clown teacher, Philippe Gaulier. In class, he does the same 'show' every day, for six hours a day, and it's always funny. You know what jokes he's going to make before he even starts his sentence, and everybody starts pissing themselves. You'll hear a lot of stories about how nasty Philippe is or how tough the school is, but most of it is exaggerated.
Yeah, it's a difficult course to do because clowning isn't easy, but behind the character, Philippe is the gentlest, kindest, and most loving person alive. He cares for his students and clearly loves to work with them. Jonny and I met at the school too, so this show actually wouldn't exist without him.
And who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
There's a few people we've come across that really suck. We won't name names (as much as we want to) because unfortunately they can all still affect our careers. But there's one comedian who MC's a famous late-night gig that we've done a lot, who tried to fight us in the green room after our set.
There's also a few producers out there who think they're way more important than they really are, and you see how quickly people latch onto power wherever they can find it. These people will treat you differently depending on who you're friends with, who you get reviewed by, and what festivals you get into. A lot of people started being nice only after things started going well for us. We see you fake asses.
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
I was really excited to do some Brexit jokes but our English audiences were not having it. It's a bummer because it's such a great topic for Tucker to play with. We pretended that he didn't know what Brexit was and kept applauding the UK for their strong relationship with Europe, specifically their ability to travel and work freely.
Our punchline was "I mean we've got the greatest dealmaker in the world as our President and even we couldn't get that deal!" We then followed that up with an even longer gag about how nice it was that UK citizens could pass through the EU citizens line at border patrol rather than wait for hours with everybody else. Nobody liked it but us.
What's your top tip for getting a buzz going at the Fringe?
Make a good show, idiot!
Are there particular reviews, heckles or post-gig reactions that stick in the mind?
We had a one-star review from The Skinny in Edinburgh that was sensational. Once it was published, our pre-sales went through the roof, and we sold out the rest of our run. The reviewer had a really intense reaction to the show and made some nasty ad-hominem comments about me and my appearance.
A lot of people kept asking me if I was sleeping with his wife because he sounded like a scorned lover. I like to think this guy actually enjoyed the show, and knew by giving us such a scathing review, that it would help us more than anything else could've.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
I'm excited about where we're at right now. We hit a lot of milestones this year - we performed at Just For Laughs and Glastonbury, Jack Tucker sold out around the world, and Stamptown established itself as a legitimate production company on the comedy scene. We've still got a way to go and no plans on stopping any time soon, so it's great to get more opportunities to allow us to continue creating work and growing as artists.